By Claire Walla
As the town of Southampton considers making the biggest landmass purchase using Community Preservation Fund (CPF) monies since the fund was established in 1999, some are divided by a trail.
Most of those who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday, June 14 on the town’s proposed $20 million purchase of the 80-acre property from Haney Farms, LLC raised the notion of including a trail easement with the purchase.
The working farm currently rests along the south side of Montauk Highway between Sagg Main and Town Line Roads.
Sagaponack Village Mayor Don Louchheim called the property “the last link” in the town’s bay-to-ocean trail. The path begins in Sag Harbor and winds its way through Mashashimuet Park and the Long Pond Greenbelt to end in the Poxabogue Preserve, which is nestled against the north-west corner of Sagg Main Road and Montauk Highway. Currently, in order to continue east and meet back up with the Sagaponack portion of the trail, which ultimately ends at the ocean, hikers need to traverse sections of roadway.
“Right now we do some dangerous road walking and we’d like to eliminate that,” said Barbara Bornstein, a Sagaponack resident who is on the boards of both the Southampton Trails Preservation Society and the Southampton Trails Advisory Board. “We want to thank the Foster family for being willing to go along [with the purchase], but we ask that a trail be established in order to create a safe way to get [from Sagaponack] to Montauk Highway.”
Mayor Louchheim emphasized the need for a trail to bisect the south-west section of Haney Farm, adding that the village would be open to using the village offices on Montauk Highway (near Sagg Main Road) as a trail head.
Town Supervisor Anna-Throne-Holst said that the town will “engage in discussions” with the Foster family, which currently owns the land, on the issue of setting up a possible trail system through the farm.
“The issues of trails is pertinent,” said Lee Foster, who now owns the 89-acre parcel from which she intends to sell development rights to the town on 80 acres. But, she added that developing a trail easement to coincide with the sale of the land “is of concern, for there are negative impacts and complex problems to be solved.”
The biggest concern for the Foster family involves topography.
Currently, the south-west portion of Haney Farm is a catch basin for storm-water runoff, Foster explained. “That portion of this property right now carries most of the storm-water runoff from the 80 acres.” It is an area that “if indeed is disturbed in any way or is changed even minimally would cause a cascade onto Main Street.”
After Councilwoman Bridget Fleming asked Foster where the best location for a trail on the property might be, Foster said “the far western boundary would be absolutely the most perfect place, the problem right now is that we have a catch-basin across that area that probably needs to be either filled or made deeper — and you don’t walk into a hole.”
Foster further said her family understands the concerns of the community with regard to a trail, but added that such a modification should be addressed at a later date.
“The bay-to-ocean path has been created over the course of years as land-use practices have changed,” she continued. But, “in the case of Haney Farm, the land use has not changed.”
Mary Wilson, director of Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund, said the town will continue to work with the Foster family and “will do our best” to appease both parties.
Wilson, along with Supervisor Throne-Holst and Councilwoman Nancy Graboski spoke to the importance of this purchase for the town — and for the Village of Sagaponack — from an agricultural standpoint.
According to Wilson, acquiring this 80-acre parcel would add to “a north-south block of proposed farmland” including Wölffer Estate to the north and the ag reserve to the south that would total over 200 acres.
While the price of the property is steep — at $20 million — Wilson said the cost would be spread out over five years’ time through a land installment purchase obligation, which would make the purchase funds available through a bond payable using CPF monies over five years.
Councilwoman Nancy Graboski admitted the price tag was “hefty,” but the five-year payment plan puts the purchase “within our reach.”